Friday, 16 October 2015

The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe


published 2007


Rain Before it Falls 1


[The narrator remembers the making of the film Gone To Earth in 1949]

A film crew was coming to Much Wenlock. A real film crew, making a real feature film for the cinemas, with real British and American stars. Yes – American! Because the star of the film – and this was the really unbelievable thing – was going to be Jennifer Jones, who only a couple of years earlier had reduced me to a state of slack-jawed astonishment with her performance in Duel in the Sun…

Rain Before it Falls 2


A notice had gone up in the market hall at Much Wenlock, saying that they needed…lots of extras just to come along and be in some of the street scenes, and anyone could come and take part so long as they were able to bring their own costumes, which should be at least 50 or 60 years old. And Beatrix told me that… somewhere in one of the attic, there were all these trunks and chests full of clothes that had belonged to Ivy’s mother, Agatha, and she was going to go over and look through them and find some dresses that were suitable for both of us to wear, if she could…

 
Rain Before it Falls 3


commentary: A winding route, related to recent blog entries, brought me here. In Agatha Christie’s autobiography she mentions the author May Sinclair, so I did a blog entry on one of her books, here. Then I was intrigued by Sinclair so tried to find out more about her on the internet – this led me to a fascinating article by Jonathan Coe talking about her and other female authors of the first half of the 20th century. I liked the article so much that I bought a book of Coe’s criticism, and then re-read one of my, and his, favourite Rosamond Lehmann books, The Ballad and the Source. (Coe also loves Echoing Grove, recently featured on the blog, a wonderful book).

He explained in the article linked to above that The Rain Before it Falls was inspired by the Virago books he loved, and indeed just about everyone’s first name comes from a book or an author of the genre (‘semi-forgotten women’s novels, 1900-1960’) or both.

I was already a big fan of Coe’s fiction, had this one in a h/b signed first edition, and read it when it first came out, ie pre-blog days. On this necessary re-read I found that Coe pretty much confounded Clothes in Books with its format: an elderly lady, Rosamond (see?), describes a series of photographs taken throughout her life. She gives wonderful detailed descriptions of the clothes everyone is wearing, but as she is talking about photos and (as Coe has made clear elsewhere) they were real photos of one kind or another, I was stymied on the question of representing them.

It is a fabulous structure though: the voice of Rosamond comes through clearly as she tells the long winding story of herself and her family and her friends, with secrets and mysteries and a variety of different kinds of lost children. There are picnics and skating parties, weddings and holidays, and the film-making mentioned above. It’s quite a melancholy story, and my only slight complaint would be that it could have done with a few more jokes – Coe is a very very funny writer, but you wouldn’t specially know that from this book.

To circumvent Rosamond’s photos, I have used pictures connected to the film instead – it is a real film. Gone To Earth was based on a book by Mary Webb: an author I should have featured on the blog by now but haven’t. Precious Bane is a great novel, and also inspired Cold Comfort Farm, and Webb is one of the authors featured in blog favourite Bestseller by Claud Cockburn.











12 comments:

  1. What an interesting-sounding book, Moira! It sounds a bit like a fictional memoir, which is not easy to pull off. You have to truly adopt the character's voice, and it's good to hear that Coe did. And I know all about those roundabout routes to books. One thought just sparks another, and one interest just leads naturally to another.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's one of the good things of life I think, Margot, getting to books in weird ways. And yes, it does read something like a fictional memoir, and I'm very impressed with Coe doing a woman's voice so well.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for that Moira. Worth pointing out re the adaptation of the Mary Webb that GONE TO EARTH is the version approved by its writer-directors Powell and Pressburger. Co-producer David O Selznick re-edited and partly re-shot it for its US release; that woeful version is known as THE WILD HEART and is best avoided. Having said that, Powell later was fairly hard on his approved version, saying that he just couldn't quite make the novel work as a movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the extra info, Sergio, I didn't know anything about the different US version. I did think this topic - combining Jonathan Coe and old films - was perfect for you!

      Delete
  3. Probably won't seek out anything other than the Coe I already have - The Rotters Club.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's my least favourite of his books, but you might well like it when you get to it (2020?).

      Delete
  4. This does sound fascinating but maybe not one I will ever read. Love the pictures from the film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read this one for you Tracy. I became fascinated by the film, and I expect I will watch it if I can find it...

      Delete
    2. I asked Glen if he had seen it because he does like Powell and Pressburger films but he has not. So if you watch it, let me know what you think of it.

      Delete
    3. I will! Did you see what Sergio said above about the US version?

      Delete
    4. I did, and if we look for it I will be sure to look for the right version.

      Delete